Some Thoughts on Mastering the Light for Your Car Photography

by | Jan 11, 2022

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

It’s hard to be a bright light in a dim world.” ― Gary Starta

Light has four major qualities: quality, quantity, color and direction. No matter what exposure mode you select on your DSLR or mirrorless camera, seeing how light in a scene affects a photograph’s overall impact is the key to mastering the art of proper exposure. Yes, its just as much art as it is science because the final exposure controls the image’s mood.

“Light,” as a wise photographer once told me, “is light” and while that may be true, you’ll need to measure the amount of light to get the accurate or correct (for the mood) exposure. If the exposure doesn’t let enough light reach the sensor, the image or part of it will be too dark. Conversely, too much light reaching the sensor results in a blown out or overexposed shot.

Part of learning to seeing the light isn’t just looking at what you think the subject of your photograph might be but instead looking at the shadows and highlights, keeping in mind that the difference between the two determines the image’s overall contrast. That’s why sometimes you’ll hear the term “dynamic range” used in relation to the range of contrast in a scene.

Accurate exposure begins by correctly setting the lens aperture and shutter speed in proper relation to each other. You can set the exposure yourself manually or let the camera do it for you. The manual method requires either a separate hand-held light meter or you can use the one that’s built in by setting the camera into Manual mode. For 90% of photographs you’ll make, the automatic metering systems that are inside today’s digital cameras (and even older 35mm film SLRs) do a fantastic job in producing correct exposure but it’s those last 10% that can be challenging. That’s when it’s time to shift into Manual. On this blog, there are lots of posts about exposure, so here’s a few to start with: Correct Exposures When Shooting Cars and then maybe try What’s the Correct Exposure? when you have time.

How I made this photo: The above image was shot alongside a railroad siding near my former home in Brighton, Colorado. I photographed our 1953 Packard Clipper near a location that was used in the 1980’s Bill Murray film Larger than Life. You can read more about this car that I loved (and Mary hated) in an Our Cars post. The photograph was made with using an old (remember when they made cameras) Samsung Pro 815 with Schneider-Kreuznach zoom lens at 40mm (equivalent) and an exposure of 1/640 sec at f/2.5 and ISO 50.

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